Nutrition for ageing well

As we age, our dietary requirements change as our bodies do, so it’s important to check in to see if what we’re used to having is meeting our changing needs. It may be easier than you think to eat a balanced diet for enjoyment, health and wellbeing, and you’re probably already doing a lot of things right.

Just to make sure, we ask dieticians with expertise in the nutritional needs of older Australians to give us some professional advice.

  • Winter 2021
  • Health and wellness
  • Read Time: 4 mins

​ How your needs change with ageing

Food myths busted

  • Reduced fat milk does NOT have sugar added to it.
  • Honey is NOT healthier than sugar. It’s all sugar.
  • Olive- and seed-based margarine is perfectly safe and IS healthier than butter for people with high cholesterol.
  • Extra virgin olive oil IS safe to cook with and you should have three teaspoons a day.
  • Wholegrain foods need to be eaten on a DAILY basis.

Fuel Your Life director of dietetics Peta Cullis says as we get older, it’s less about restricting what you eat and more about making sure you’re getting enough nutrients.

“As we get older, we find more often than not, older Australians are eating less of, but not
always the best of,” Peta says.

“As appetites and portion sizes might reduce, older Australians might find themselves not eating as much at meal times, but there’s an increase in snacking.

“Instead of having a sandwich with heaps of salad in it, it might be a couple of crackers, with maybe tomato or cheese.” 

That, plus the tendency for biscuits, cakes, chocolate and alcohol at social events to sneak in, means older Australians often get less nutrient diversity. That plays a big part because over the age of 65, most people will have at least one medication to treat a medical condition … and over time some of those medications can deplete or influence nutrient absorption,” Peta says.

Nutrition Australia accredited practising dietician Leanne Elliston says as we get older our muscle mass starts to break down, which results in increased protein needs (from meat, eggs, nuts and legumes).

The muscles in the gut also weaken, which is why getting enough fibre is important.

“Bone mass also deteriorates, which means we need to consume more calcium (from dairy),” Leanne says.

“Our body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D from the sun deteriorates as well, resulting in a greater need for Vitamin D from food sources such as dairy, eggs, margarine, salmon and sardines.”

Plus, did you know that our thirst sensation can decrease as we get older? Aim for eight glasses of hydrating fluids (e.g. water or juice) per day—and that can include cups of tea.

Men vs. women

There are a couple of key differences in the nutritional needs of men and women as we age. Between the age of 50 and 70, women need more calcium than men, requiring an extra serve of dairy to compensate.

“Women have a higher calcium requirement and generally a lower muscle mass and higher body fat [percentage] than men in this group,” Peta says.

“That indicates they probably need to eat a little more protein and make sure they’re moving their muscles.

“Without protein and without regular intakes of calcium, with the hormonal changes that happen around menopause [and a lot of other factors], it can really play a big part in bone bass and bone density.”

For men, Peta recommends cutting back on red meat to reduce the risk of developing disease or cancers.

“Particularly bowel and stomach cancers are more responsive to red meat and red meat intake,” Peta says.

She adds that a lot of the time men don’t eat as many vegetables and fruit as women do. 

“Because they’re getting older, they sometimes get more body fat too, which also increases their risk of other things. It's just about adapting to the changes in their body and then responding accordingly.

“What I find mostly as people get older is that they’re not actually changing their diet. The body changes, so we should always be re-evaluating things throughout the entirety of our life to facilitate and support those changes from a nutrition perspective.”

The skinny on popular diets

The general consensus from both dieticians is that diets can work, but don’t just jump on the bandwagon of what’s trendy, because your body has its own individual needs.

Where one type of diet might be effective for losing weight in some people, it may not necessarily help others.

In fact, Leanne says following a strict regime can make you feel deprived, and won’t help you in the long term.

But, Peta says at the end of the day, diets do work, it’s just a matter of speaking to a dietician to find out the right one for you.

“You need the right network, support and framework to actually make change," she adds.

Wetting your whistle

One of Leanne’s concerns with older Australians is that some increase their  alcohol intake after retirement.

“Not only does alcohol contribute to dehydration, but it can also destroy brain cells and cause liver damage,” Leanne says.

“We should aim for at least two alcohol-free days per week and limit the intake on other days to around two standard serves.”

Peta says if you enjoy having a tipple, do it socially so the effects of alcohol are slowed down by food, and so you’re having a good time with others, not drinking alone often.

The body changes, so we should always be re-evaluating things throughout the entirety of our life to facilitate and support those changes from a nutrition perspective.

The ideal day on a plate

Remember when...

The sound of Sweetacres Jaffas clattering on timber floors rang out during Saturday movie matinees? Originally made by James Stedman-henderson’s Sweets of Sydney, the brand was bought by hoadley, which was later taken over by Nestlé.


Peta and Leanne both recommend a healthy cereal option for brekkie.

“Weetbix with a high-fibre topper, which could be a nut or seed muesli or it could be bran to increase the fibre, then definitely fruit and milk to go with it,” Peta says. 

Leanne says her go-to would be rolled oats made with milk and berries, or muesli with natural yoghurt and fruit. 

For lunch, Leanne suggests a wholegrain sandwich loaded with healthy protein (lean meat, tinned fish or egg), cheese and salad.

Peta agrees and, as a winter option, suggests a hearty soup with legumes and veggies thrown in. Soups are also a great way of using up leftovers such as shredded chicken or roast meat.

For the evening meals, Peta says they should vary vastly from day to day, but should aim to have one-and-a-half cups of three different vegetables per night—an orange, a green and a ‘windy’ vegetable.

“Orange might be pumpkin, carrot, capsicum, or tomato, a green could be broccoli, beans, brussels sprouts or zucchini, and a windy could be cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, leek or garlic,”  Peta says.

Leanne backs this, saying an ideal dinner would be “lean meat and at least three different coloured veggies”.

Don't forget, your protein can come from meat alternatives like tofu or legumes (e.g. beans or lentils) and can be used in stirfries or slow-cooked casseroles.


The ideal snacks recommended by the dieticians are fruit, nuts, yoghurt and vegetable sticks with hummus. These options are naturally rich in protein and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

When choosing nuts as a snack, make sure you pick an unsalted, high-protein option and limit yourself to a quarter-cup per day. Almonds, walnuts and pistachios offer the highest amount of protein but pecans, hazlenuts and macadamias are also rich in nutrients.

A really easy and delicious snack is the humble hard-boiled egg, which is one of the few foods that are a naturally good source of Vitamin D.

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Aromatic slow-cooked lamb shoulder
  • Winter 2021
  • Lifestyle
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Aromatic slow-cooked lamb shoulder